Middle Eastern setting aside, 'Salmon' is very British

THE EARLY leader for the Worst Title of the Year award is surely "Salmon Fishing in Yemen."

The words seem designed to alienate as many viewers as possible, while pandering to the world's smallest subset of hobbyists. (Remember the bird-watching comedy "The Big Year?" Of course you don't.)

There is another audience for the movie, of course, and it's anyone who finds Emily Blunt adorable, which is everyone.

"Fishing" features Blunt in "Young Victoria" mode, in a decidedly old-fashioned romance that replaces modern-day vulgarity with the decorum of formal courtship.

She plays a marketing pro assigned to drum up interest in a nutty project conceived by a fishing-mad Arab prince (Amr Waked) who wants to introduce salmon fishing to his desert homeland. Ewan McGregor plays the uptight Scottish scientist assigned, against his will, to the project.

She refers to him as Dr. Jones. He refers to her as Miss Chetwode-Talbot, and they go on like this for an hour. Each passing minute attests to a growing attraction, but they never drop the strict formality proscribed by their working relationship.

They make a likable movie pair, even when put through the paces of a formulaic plot - she has a absent soldier boyfriend, he is in the waning stages of an unhappy marriage, and you know how that will go.

Middle Eastern setting aside, "Salmon Fishing in Yemen" is also veddy British. It has the U.K. knack for institutional/bureaucratic satire, and Kristin Scott Thomas has a small, vivid, funny role as a tough-talking politico who manages the project from behind the scenes.

The movie goes almost completely goofy in its third act, when Western/Arab cultural conflicts are amplified to an absurd degree (though if you know what a Spey cast is, you might get a kick out of the movie's strangest scene).

None of these histrionics seem to come naturally to director Lasse Hallstrom ("Chocolat," "The Cider House Rules"), and you wonder how much of it was really necessary.

The only thing the movie really needs is Emily, to be blunt.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Directed by Lasse Hallström. With Kristin Scott Thomas, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked, Emily Blunt. Distributed by CBS Films.

Running time: 1 hours, 52 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for some violence and sexual content, and brief language).